Quotes for Writers on Narrative and Storytelling

October 22, 2009

This category of quotations from my favorite writers quotes collection is about the bigger picture of storytelling– the theme, tone, motive, intent, pacing. A lot of good advice.

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“We all want the movies we write to get made. And that’s only going to happen if someone likes the script. Executives read a guh-zillion scripts on the weekend. It would be idiotic for me not to have him try and enjoy the ride.”
(William Goldman, from his book Four Screenplays with Essays)

“Movies are finally, centrally, crucially, primarily only about story.”
(William Goldman, from the introduction in his book Five Screenplays with Essays)

“What is happening now is apt to be less dramatically interesting than what may or may not happen next.”
(Alexander Mackendrick)

“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no character; without character you have no action. Without action, you have no story, and without story, you have no screenplay.”
(Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays)

“Good screenwriting plays against the grain, plays against the obvious, plays against the way you would expect things to happen.”
(Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays)

“In art, the obvious is a sin.”
(Edward Dmytryk)

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.” 
(Rod Serling)

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (William Arthur Ward) Substitute the word “teacher” with “writer” and you have a powerful, relevent piece of advice for the screenwriter.

“I try to make my screenplays as readable an experience as I can, for a good and greedy reason—I want the executives, who read them and who have the power to greenlight a flick, to say, ‘Hey, I can make money out of this.’”
(William Goldman, from his book Four Screenplays with Essays)

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” (Stephen King)

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Readying Step Outline for Delivery

October 17, 2009

While I’m already deep into the step outline for the second act, I’ve gone back briefly today to the first act, cleaning it up for delivery to the producer.

Going back? Say it isn’t so!

No, no — this “going back” isn’t like a retreat. It’s a good thing. And truly a step forward.

You see, there’s an interesting statement by William Goldman in his book Four Screenplays with Essays that inspired me to go back and polish up that Act I step outline before delivery. In his essay introducing the script Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he talks about how the standard screenplay format is so structurally counterintuitive to a good read, being loaded with conventions that almost seem designed to interrupt the narrative flow. Which, he explains, is why, “I try to make my screenplays as readable an experience as I can, for a good and greedy reason — I want the executives, who read them and who have the power to greenlight a flick, to say, ‘Hey, I can make money out of this.'”

How I’m applying that

Even though this step outline is mostly for me, the writer, to help me structure the story and test out the narrative flow before I invest so many more hours in the detailed structuring of the entire screenplay with all the dialogue, I figured that the rules change for the delivery. This outline will be, in two days, mostly for the producer, not me.

As the producer reads it, he will be less focused on how artfully structured I have or haven’t made this first act than how much this outline version of the first act will or will not already begin to inspire him as being a potentially good movie. Or not.

So, borrowing on the wisdom of William Goldman, I’m modifying the first act step outline to read well: to flow compellingly from one step to the next, and using turns of phrase designed to make the reading more enjoyable. For the same good and greedy reason. 😉


More Step Outline Progress

October 13, 2009

Things are progressing slowly these days, as you may have noticed.  Competing priorities!  But at least there is progress.

And it was a really enjoyable part of the step outline process — the last sequence of the first act. This is a dramaturgically critical point in the story; it’s that all important Plot Point 1 — that surprising, major event in which the hero’s life is radically changed.

In the case of this story, this will be where the story really takes off — where Joe finally does that thing that we have been wanting him to do all along during the first act: to take off the gloves with both the criminal element and the senior government officials who have been squelching his attempts to achieve justice by traditional means.

In short, this is where things start to get really ugly. 🙂


A Cacophony of Culture?

October 9, 2009

Right. I get that music design is normally a postproduction thing. Primarily.

Unless you’re shooting a musical.

And, no — this movie definitely won’t be a musical.

However, one lasting impression from my four times in the country of Trinidad and Tobago (once for two months, once for nearly 10 months) is the omnipresent role of music there. Even in the very atmosphere itself, really.

Must be something in the soil

It seems that music not only reflects but defines the people of Trinidad and Tobago. If you’ve traveled the country much, you know what I mean. The music is everywhere and anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago – where ever people gather (in crowds of one or more). image

And so, for a movie that we plan to shoot in such a music-centric land such as Trinidad & Tobago, I feel it’s important that the movie’s music design begins now, influencing even the structuring of the screenplay.

Whether I’m thinking as a writer or as a director, I feel it’s important to consider the rhythm and volume of a culture into which the movie will be set. And in the land of Trinidad and Tobago, the volume is up, the rhythms overlap, and the music styles often clash. Beautifully!

I guess you could call it…

A cacophony of culture

… because the mishmash of music you hear on the streets is an honest reflection of the Trinbagonian people: diverse, divergent, overlapping, and surprisingly harmonious.

In that sense, while the near-constant amplified dissonance of so many concurrent and competing sounds can seem a bit discordant or dissonant, it really is as natural and harmonious as can be, when you consider the culture.

I wonder sometimes…

How aware or unaware is the average Trinbagonian of either the volume or the concurrency of the music? If you’ve lived that way from birth, do you notice it? or is it like breathing: a thing that happens at a subconscious level?

To an outsider just visiting the country, it can be initially jarring to the senses. Overwhelming!

I recall feeling psychologically exhausted the first time I spent more than 30 minutes on the streets of downtown Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. I couldn’t wait to escape to the aural insulation of an air-conditioned car, windows up, driving AWAY from the hullabaloo.

But then … you adjust.

Just as I adjusted to working in the (initially) suffocating humidity, I adjusted also to the musical cavalcade. I came to appreciate, and even look forward to, the signature chorus of sounds and music that, like the rooster’s crow, signified the dawning of a new day. And which, unlike the cock’s crow, continued until after nightfall.  🙂

Oh, and I should mention: there were real rooster cock-a-doodle-doos mixed in to the daybreak chorus of sounds too. And the screeching of wild parrots flying over the hills. Morning in Trinidad.

I think it’s the weather too.

With the perpetually warm, tropical climate, the windows in Trinidad & Tobago are almost always open in homes, businesses, and cars. Which makes for this fascinating undulation of overlapping sounds as you walk or drive down the road.

I don’t suppose then that you would experience the aural mishmash in an equally musically-oriented country that has a cooler climate; the music would be more contained by the closed windows and doors.

But, no, it’s more than that.

It’s not just that the windows are open. Because you don’t get a comparable musical kaleidoscope effect in the cities of the hotter regions of the US. Not even close.

Part of what creates the Trinbagonian musical cacophony then has to do with the way that most Trinbagonians…

Embrace the climate

At least compared to Americans in the southern USA.

Now, I’m sure part of this open-air environment is about economics — not as many people in Trinidad and Tobago can afford air conditioning as in the US — but it also has to do with the strange tendency of most of us Americans to

(A) simultaneously seek out and settle in to the country’s hottest climates, and yet;

(B) spend so little time letting that climate anywhere near our bodies: living in air-conditioned homes, driving to work and the store in air-conditioned cars, and then working, dining, and shopping in air-conditioned businesses.

By not embracing our climate, Americans are more culturally cut off from the people around us than in an open-windowed, open-doored culture like Trinidad and Tobago.

But it’s more than that, too.

It’s also the melting pot effect.

Indeed, the US was once a great melting pot, as we often call ourselves even today. But we are a lot more homogenous now compared to many other societies. And certainly compared to Trinidad and Tobago.

And that’s my point with this whole music thing — how the ever-present musical mishmash is a perfectly natural reflection of Trinbagonian culture, which is a true melting pot of French, Spanish, British, African, Indian, and island peoples (did I miss any?).

But here’s the thing; even as each culture’s unique flavors, accents, dress, attitudes, and music have influenced one another, the unique cultures of each have not become so diluted as to loose their distinctness. So you get diversity harmoniously.

And that, you see, is why I describe the musical melting pot of the Trinbagonian culture as a beautiful cacophony — as clashing without clashing, if you embrace the sound as being a reflection of the people whose past 50 years, with a couple of notable exceptions (1990 comes to mind), generally accept and even take pride in their cultural diversity.

So, while Men of Gray III, The Midnight Robber is not a musical per se, I am purposely structuring the screenplay to…

Reflect the musical rhythm of the culture

My intention is to infuse the scenes with the music you would hear if you were in such a modern-day Trinbagonian moment, and to use that music to tell the story as much as the dialogue or images of the scene.

Sometimes, this infusion means envisioning a specific song that’s appropriate for the mood and the moment.

Sometimes, it’s more about the type of music that would be playing in a certain neighborhood or a certain type of occasion that the movie will portray.

Sometimes, it’s about the volume or the degree of musical cacophony in a scene or sequence: whether it’s subtly underscoring a character’s emotion or overpowering the dialogue, causing people to yell, for instance.

But, ultimately, it’s about building a movie that respects and realistically portrays the country’s culture, so that it will entertain and be embraced by Trinbagonians at least as much as it will the rest of the world. With its music as a natural and interwoven thread of this story, i think we can do that.


Big Move … Subjectively Speaking

October 4, 2009

A tough, tough move, it seemed to me.

Image-0000 

But then, in the scheme of things….

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I guess it was no big deal.


Relo Wrapping Up

October 3, 2009

With both home and office in boxes for several days as I relocate from Lake Balboa, California to Sylmar, California, all script development’s been on ice.

But it’s nearly time to start brewing again; my desk is assembled, my big-ol’ story structuring board is mounted, the ideas are percolating, and the financiers are talking turkey.

So stay tuned: I expect to be back into the screenwriting mix within 48 hours.  🙂


Now, It Really Is Chaos

September 18, 2009

Strange day… I made much progress on the step outline.

Yep, that’s the strange part.

Since I am moving out  in less than two weeks (the end of my lease), the work of preparing for that move has recently crowded its way into my story development time. While I make it a daily habit to always achieve some measure of progress on the screenplay, they have been token advances for the last several days.

But today was different…

Somehow, in the midst of all my packing, apartment hunting, and handling a couple of freelance client needs, I managed to squeeze in a good three hours of screenwriting, in fact making great advances on the step outline.

When I’m working on the outline, I’m normally referring frequently to the story conceptualization board on the wall with its carefully arranged note cards, laid out chronologically along the story timeline, grouped step by step.

Normally.

But, like I said, today was different

In this earlier post, I spoke against the possible perception that all these notes on the board were chaos. But today, the board really is chaos, as you can see:

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If you look closely, you can still barely make out the chronological note card arrangement half-buried amidst all the other junk.

What the… what happened?!

I blame it on the move preparation. To make sure I get my full security deposit back, I’m cleaning off anything I have on the walls (with the conceptualization board being the only remaining exception) so I can patch up holes with speckling paste and touch up with paint if necessary.

So, I’ve temporarily made this board the waiting room for anything that I had on the walls around my office but didn’t want to pack away yet. 

So, yeah, it’s chaos, just as it appears to be.

“But only temporarily,” he insisted defensively.